Online Printing – My Story – Part 2!

Online Printing

The end of the Empire – Free at Last!

The End of the ODC Empire.

The second phase in the development of our online print business involved further experimentation into new online print markets.

Some things worked, some things didn’t.

The new owners of the ODC franchise – Boundary Capital continued to siphon off the money that should have contributed towards the development of our business.  Eventually the business collapsed under the weight of the leveraged debt used to fund the purchase.

The fall of the ODC franchise was slow and painful for everyone involved.   But in the end a huge burden was lifted off our shoulders and we were free to market our business in any way we wished.

Online print was a growing market and eventually the business was no longer kept as a low profile operation.

Our first venture was still pulling in the sales even though the website needed updating but our second venture was not generating the same rewards.

We embarked upon a strategy of segmentation but we were unable to allocate sufficient resource.  The idea was to gradually build up a large number of websites to service a specific product or market segment.

Our first niche market was the printing and delivery of Orders of Service for both funeral directors and members of the public.

We worked for a large number of local funeral directors and prepared the orders of service within 24 hours.

The market was not price-sensitive and would be fairly “recession-proof”.

The website was good and built without frames.

We created an online editor for clients to simply upload text and images and drop them into one of our templates.

In hindsight this proved a step too far and created virtually no new orders and wasted a lot of time.

We approached the market through a combination of direct mail, Google AdWords, E-mail marketing and even approached the trade associations for some collaborative venture.

But the investment needed in SEO for small volume sites could never be financially justified.

We managed to secure a few new clients and probably had more success proving the service to members of the public who were looking for something a bit more unusual than their funeral director could provide.

So we decided to concentrate on our document printing site by rebuilding it and then throw some money at search engine optimisation.

The majority of the early transactions were B2C and the value of transactions seemed to be smaller than before.

Eventually the SEO work began to pay dividends.

There are always going to be single-use transactions but we managed to still get a large amount of repeat business and started to build relationships.

It becomes easier to convert them to a mail-order or an account customer when they have built up a record of transactions.

One new customer alone paid for the whole development cost of the project and one transaction paid for the year’s SEO budget.

As an investment it was a far better bet than employing a sales person and without the same element of risk.

I am always amazed at being able to get on the first page of Google wherever I happen to be in the world for most of the keywords or key phrases we have selected.  Especially when the total number of pages found in a few seconds usually goes into hundreds of millions!

The other good thing about online sales is virtually everything can be quantified.

A free plug in gives you an incredible amount of information.

We have been getting an average of 25,000 page views a year with a very low bounce rate and some 8000 of these were returning visits.

You can also use the data to fine tune your service offering.  How long clients spend on each page of your site – their entry and exit points and a history of what has taken their interest or not as the case may be.

We had some amazing orders and lifted the volume of our online sales to something in the region of 35% of our total turnover.

We could print and bind using our own equipment at a higher margin – so we rarely had to rely on a sub-contractor or a third party.

There was always the odd exception – we had to subcontract a really urgent next day print job to Mimeo in North America.

Then we relied on a Geneva-based print business who had to print, wire bind and courier 15 training manuals to one of our clients within a few hours after our original documents were held up by Swiss customs.

There are no printers who do not sub-contract to a specialist print operation.  There are certain jobs that would not be worthwhile attempting without the correct equipment or level of expertise.

So we also decided to take up the offer of a number of “white label” online print sites.

The benefit to our clients is that they are buying our “brand” and we can help prepare the files and manage  the order process.

We try and provide a wide range of services “under one roof” and although the margins are wafer-thin these sites help to enhance our brand.

They are however, not worthy of much more investment.

As for the future we believe there are some exciting opportunities in digital printing.  Our intention is now to

      • Capitalise on the growth in the fast online digital print market using better SEO and social media management.
      • Consolidate our position as a market leader in online document printing with the third generation website launch.
      • Move into the digital marketing arena by offering bundled services to small businesses that do not have the time or the knowledge to do it themselves.
These last few years we have re-modelled our business because of online printing.

It has impacted on every aspect of our business.

We have adapted our management systems, recruitment, marketing, operations, finances and even our exit planning.

All will be revealed in the third and final blog which will follow soon ……………..


Chris JepsonOnline Printing Specialist


(Basis of presentation to UKDPN Conference November 2015)

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